After more than three years, the global Covid emergency has officially ended. However, it still kills at least one person every four minutes, and questions about how to deal with the virus remain unanswered, putting vulnerable people and vaccine-deficient countries at risk. ro.
An important question is how to handle a virus that is becoming less of a threat to most people but is still extremely dangerous to a segment of the population. That part is much bigger than many realize: Covid remained the top, third-biggest killer in the US last year after heart disease and cancer. However, unlike other common causes of death such as smoking and traffic accidents that lead to safety laws, politicians are not promoting ways to reduce harm, such as compulsory vaccinations. tie or wear a mask in an enclosed space.
Ziyad Al-Aly, director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology at the St. Louis health care system in Missouri. “Covid still infects and kills a lot of people. We have the means to ease that burden.”
Even before the World Health Organization declare Earlier this month when Covid was no longer a state of emergency, most governments eased lockdown measures and guidelines. After spending heavily in the early stages of the pandemic, global leaders have scaled back efforts and are reluctant to pursue preventive measures, with the public running out of patience.
Meanwhile, the infectious disease that has caused at least 20 million deaths worldwide continues to grow, leaving the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions at the mercy of chance, access to medicine. unevenly and have little protection from others without a mask or recent vaccination.
Why not have a long-term plan?
A global, long-term plan to protect vulnerable people and prevent a resurgence of the outbreak has failed to materialize, in part because it has been difficult to generate any consensus around Covid. From the outset, polarizing political discourse has overshadowed official guidelines on mask wearing and vaccinations.
Even in developed countries, where vaccines became available less than a year after the pandemic hit, many people have refused to use them. Lack of vaccination leads to more than 300.00 American excess deathor one out of every two people from Covid, throughout 2021. Globally, it could have been saved half a million more, studies show.
“We know that the politicization of public health is one of the tragedies of the pandemic,” Al-Aly said. “Political leaders have used their responses not only to promote public health, but also to advance their own stories and garner support for themselves.”
Global coordination is also hampered by politics. China’s refusal to allow independent experts access to a wet market believed to be a test site for Covid or the Wuhan Institute of Virology has added to diplomatic tensions and mistrust. Linfa Wang, a virologist and director of the emerging infectious disease program at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, said that today, Chinese representatives are not involved in many global preparedness efforts.
“That is hindering academic cooperation, and cooperation between China and the United States is almost zero,” Wang said. “With these two superpowers, if they don’t cooperate, how can we say the world is ready for the next epidemic?”
The diminishing sense of urgency also means that the surge in investment in Covid vaccines and treatments has also cooled. While companies include modern Inc and Pfizer Inc. is still updating their photos, trying to make them easier to produce and store, many of the hundreds of novel approaches originally conceived have been scrapped.
In the United States, experts will meet in June to advise on which strains the vaccine should target for the rest of the year. These vaccines will only hit the market in the fall, with just 100 million doses expected in the US according to Moderna estimates, much less than in previous years.
Why is this a problem?
Long Covid, which is estimated to affect about 10% of those infected, is considered one of the biggest health challenges after the pandemic. The economic costs are also significant.
In the United States, Covid is estimated to cost an estimated $50 billion a year in lost wages by the end of 2022. In the United Kingdom, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated last year that around 1 in 10 people contract the disease. Prolonged Covid had to stop working. result. The number of people with those symptoms, including brain fog, shortness of breath and fatigue, is growing even as the number of infections is falling.
It’s especially scary for people at high risk who have had to return to work and public spaces where there are few masks and the dangers are invisible. A family wedding can still turn into a super-spreading event, and a flight can be disastrous.
Epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee painfully realized this. Her husband, Tom, survived a drug-resistant infection with a rare superbug in 2016, but left with lung scarring and other medical problems. They understand the potential risk if he is infected with Covid, so they should be vigilant and limit travel during the epidemic season. Both are fully vaccinated and prefer to wear masks.
But a visit to their son in Canada recently led to an infection. In the hospital, where Tom was being treated for acute respiratory failure, she was amazed at the way some young staff members were so cavalier about contracting Covid that they thought they were at low risk, despite they can transmit the disease to the patient.
“People aren’t mild, and we know repeated exposure increases your risk,” said Strathdee, who is also associate dean of the Department of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego.
While people with active health problems may know to take precautions, some people will learn that they are only vulnerable after an infection puts them in the hospital. Repeated bouts can add to the damage, and that applies to everyone, not just those with pre-existing conditions.
What should we do?
Fortunately, the world now has vaccines and better treatments. Tests can detect infections within minutes, and new outbreaks can be quickly detected.
Health experts say vaccination is the best way to protect against it. According to Pfizer Inc., only about 16% of Americans receive a booster dose of the bivalent vaccine, compared with nearly 70% who received the vaccine during the first round of vaccinations. Rising out-of-pocket costs and depletion of the vaccine could cause absorption rates to fall even further. In the long run, it is hoped that new improved injections or nasal sprays will provide better protection.
There are other improvements that could help, from ventilation and air quality testing to better masks. Experts say more investment is needed in surveillance systems to detect threats early.
The United States is also planning to spend $5 billion on a new project to develop advanced vaccines and coronavirus treatments together with drug manufacturers. The goal is to make the drugs available quickly when the virus mutates, so the target strains aren’t degraded when they hit the market.
“Even as governments tire, we must face the fact that the virus is still evolving,” said Duke-NUS’ Wang.